In the 1950s, American public universities began training a vast new cadre of nuclear engineers, technicians, and scientists in specially designed and built “teaching reactors.” As this article describes, a generation of nuclear engineering undergraduates and graduate students were exposed to an open, accessible, and above all, visible demonstration of nuclear energy through educational “swimming pool”–style reactors. Distinct from reactors for either weapons or power production, the swimming pool reactor was specifically configured to be a pedagogical tool. Educational programs were created around federally and industrially sponsored reactors for training, part of the massive Cold War era transformations of Midwestern, Western, and Southern public colleges and universities. This article offers the Ford Nuclear Reactor at the University of Michigan as an example of how the peaceful pedagogical atom developed after the 1950s. As I argue, teaching reactors were one product of the conservative compact made between government, public universities, and private industry in the early 1950s that underpinned the famed Atoms for Peace movement, with its technology and information sharing and international training priorities. Indeed, teaching reactors resolved for Eisenhower’s administration the tension between a desire for centralized control of the atom and the powerful vision of a future of prosperity brought about by open education and use of nuclear materials. This paper is part of a special issue entitled “Revealing the Michigan Memorial–Phoenix Project.”

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